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Does your dog need to be in a car seat when you’re driving? Experts weigh in

This year, my boyfriend and I did something most New Yorkers don’t do — we bought a car. I’ll admit, I thought it was a dumb idea because public transit is pretty convenient, and parking is expensive — if you can even find a place to park. But it’s worked for us, especially when traveling out of state with our dog to see family.

Quick overview
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If you’ve ever driven with a dog, you know that it can be a little distracting. Growing up, my 90-pound golden retriever liked to use his time in the car to try to convince us that he was a lap dog. Now, my 11-pound poodle likes to stand on his hind legs to look at the window. It’s cute, but it’s also dangerous. I’ve put him in his dog carrier, but for long road trips, that’s too long to sit in a closed bag.

So, a few months ago, I was fortunate enough to test out Subaru’s 2024 Crosstrek, and the team brought up the brand’s dog-friendly travel accessories. Of course, having a car awarded for its safety like a Subaru Crosstrek — with its stability control, Blind Spot Detection system and Lane-Keep Assist system, among other features — helps keep your dog and everyone else inside secure. But Subaru also makes a crash-tested pet harness that clips into the seat belt and a pet bed/car seat that straps in. So I wondered — should my dog really sit in a car seat?

“Securing your dog (or cat) in the vehicle while it is in motion is imperative to their safety,” said Lori Blichasz, Subaru’s Accessory Marketing Manager. “If they are not properly secured, your animal can become a projectile object in a collision, which can be harmful to the occupants of the vehicle and could be fatal to your pet.”

After hearing this, I talked to my own vet, and she agreed that it’s a good idea to secure my dog in a car seat or his carrier. Even if I don’t close the bag, he can pop his head out the top and lay down when he wants, but strapping him and the carrier in is a smart idea.

I ended up purchasing a dog car seat. Mine is essentially a bed he can lay down in with a clip that attaches to his harness. Of course, bigger dogs usually have to sit in the backseat or the cargo area if you have an SUV or CRV, and there aren’t really any car seats for their size. However, there are harnesses or even kennels you can use in your car for them.

“If you have a dog that weighs 18-90 pounds and is traveling in the second or third row of your vehicle, we recommend properly securing them using a Pet Harness,” Blichasz said. “Subaru offers a Pet Harness that has an Infinity Loop webbing design, padded vest, seatbelt grade straps and stress-tested buckles that work together to distribute and reduce damaging forces in the event of a car collision and has been crash-tested at child seat safety standards and certified by the Center for Pet Safety.”

Of course, in addition to safety, you want your pet to feel comfortable. Subaru also makes seat covers, padded cargo liners and seat protectors for pets. You can take a look at all of Subaru’s pet accessories on its website.

But if you want more options, stores like Petco and Chewy also have great car travel accessories for pets. Take a look below at a few car seats and harnesses for keeping your dog safe in the car. They’re like family, so of course, you want to protect them as such.

If your dog already has a comfortable, padded harness that fits them well, you can attach this seat belt adapter to it using the carabineer latch. If you don’t have a harness like that, this one by EzyDog will keep them safe and secure.

$7 at Petco

This plush car seat feels like a bed, but it has a short strap that latches onto your dog’s harness to keep them safe. The idea is that they’ll feel relaxed enough to take a nap in the seat — and looking at that memory foam-filled bed, who wouldn’t want to?

If you have a toy or small dog that is constantly trying to stand to look out the window, a booster car seat (like this one) that hangs from the headrest and props them up higher may be a better fit.

$48 at Chewy

Make your dog feel more comfortable and protect your back seats with this water-resistant hammock car seat cover. It comes in two sizes and three colors. You can pull the seatbelt through it to keep your dog secured in it, and because it hangs like a hammock, you don’t have to worry about your dog rolling off the seat and falling on the floor of the car.

$39 at Chewy

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